Also worth recording in brief some bizzare buzzard behaviour noted on the walk back off the hill last night. The sun was long below the horizon and the first woodcock were beginning to flight from the willows around the house as I watched a buzzard drop down out of a scots pine and sit on the dyke which made a saw-toothed black horizon to the North. I had taken ten minutes to see where the crows were going to roost and was a second away from standing up and walking back to the car (having discovered their sordid billet in a thicket of rowan) when the buzzard dropped over me, and I paused to see if I could find out why he hadn’t gone to roost.
With a silent flick, the dark shape dropped off the dyke and began to coast over the long grass precisely like an owl. There was hardly any flapping, and when the wingbeats came, they were soft and shallow. I stood up as it flew out of sight, then watched it come back and ever closer. I had been certain that I was looking at a buzzard, but there was something so owl-like about this shape that I suddenly thought that I must have been mistaken. Surely it was a long eared owl, of which there are several on the farm at the moment.
I put up my binoculars to get a clearer picture in the gloom, and still the shape came nearer in total silence. It was concentrating so hard on the ground just below it that it never saw me, so that when it did it flared up noisily and gave no room for confusion. It was certainly a buzzard, but it was copying the owl’s trick of slow, low, silent hunting just on the blue dusk. Perhaps it had learnt to hunt like this after a summer of phenomenal vole numbers, or maybe it had seen owls hunting and literally borrowed the technique.
Whatever the explanation, it was evidence of the fact that buzzards are extremely adaptable animals, and the old lie that they are “too lazy” to do anything more than pick at carrion and worms is wholly defunct. This bird had learnt a trick just like the birds I described killing snakes in previous years and was simply trying its luck with a unique skill. It is a horrible generalisation to think that bird behaviour is the same across entire species, and intelligent individuals are always trying new things otherwise they would simply die out. I was told that I was a liar when I said I’d seen a buzzard killing an adult greyhen because “buzzards don’t do that”, but it is absurdly naive to suggest that a predator would not capitalise on an opportunity to kill for the sake of upholding its reputation among human beings.